Welsh Assembly announces plans to introduce e-voting

The Welsh Government has proposed pilots exploring the use of electronic voting in local elections and by-elections.

Alongside providing 16 and 17-year-olds with the ability to vote on devolved matters for the first time in the UK, e-voting is aimed at boosting participation in the political process.

Alun Davies AM, the Welsh Government’s cabinet secretary for local government and public services, said that while “many people like” paper ballots, that method of voting was “increasingly at odds with people’s everyday lives, especially young people”.

The chief executive of youth-led think-tank WebRoots Democracy, Areeq Chowdhury, told Sky News he was “delighted” at the announcement.

He added: “Online voting has huge potential to engage a new generation of young voters in Wales, as well as enable voters with vision impairments and disabilities to independently cast ballots.

“Now that both the Welsh and Scottish Governments have committed to pilots, it is time for the UK Government to follow suit.

“Online voting is the future of elections and it can’t indefinitely be kicked into the long grass.”

Laws allowing e-voting are intended to be included in a Local Government Bill which Mr Davies said he intended to bring to the Welsh Assembly later this year.

Mr Davies added: “The Electoral Commission would need to evaluate any pilot before we moved to make anything permanent and widespread but time is overdue for making the voting process more modern and more flexible, observing, of course, the need to keep any system secure.”

A woman arrives to cast her vote at the polling station in Westward Community Centre, Bridgend.
Not everyone is keen on the idea, with concerns raised about security

The security of ballot counting systems has never been a problem in the UK, where ballots are counted by hand.

However, in countries such as the US and Germany, security researchers have warned that machines used to count votes could be hacked to manipulate the results – although there is no evidence of this having taken place.

Russian hackers are accused of targeting election-related systems in 21 US states during the 2016 presidential election.

In Germany, cybersecurity researchers warned in the days before their parliamentary elections that security flaws in counting machines’ software were “trivial” to exploit and manipulate the result.

Mr Chowdhury said that WebRoots Democracy’s research has shown online voting could be far more secure than postal voting if “designed carefully”.

However, Matthew Rice, the Scotland director of digital rights organisation Open Rights Group, told Sky News: “When computer science experts tell us pen and paper is the best voting system, we should listen.

“Electronic voting risks undermining elections. How is any reasonable person supposed to know what’s going in inside the computers?

“How can we trust that the result the computer says is the correct result? We can’t tip all the ballots out onto the table and run it again.

“Every week we hear about the threat of Russia or some other foreign power undermining democracies or trying to hack into government systems.

“Put voting online, and we’ll be heading towards another massive problem.”

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